The City of New Westminster has closed the curtain on a local society's bid for cash connected to the former Raymond Burr Performing Arts Theatre.
Ted Eddy, president of the Raymond Burr Theatre Performing Arts Society, recently met with city council to discuss the status of the performing arts society and to seek the $14,000 the society believes it's owed in connection to assets left in the theatre when it closed.
The society planned to use the funds to fulfill a commitment it made to foster and develop theatre arts in New Westminster by providing bursaries to students at Douglas College.
The Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society formed in the mid-1990s with a goal of purchasing and renovating the 1927 Columbia Theatre. The theatre was renamed in honour of native son and famed actor Raymond Burr.
In a report to council, city administrator Paul Daminato stated the society intended to embark on an aggressive fundraising campaign to secure the funds to buy, restore and renovate the theatre. When it wasn't successful in raising enough money to buy the theatre, he said the city stepped in and acquired the property and the building at the last moment and negotiated an agreement with the society to restore and operate the theatre.
"The building development strategies were never really executed and the city funded all of the significant building repairs," he wrote. "The city did some initial work to make the theatre functional. The society then became focused on theatre productions and less focused on fundraising and building improvements."
Daminato's report outlined some of the money that the city contributed to the theatre during the society's tenancy in the building: grants to the society - $324,350; replacement of roof and HVAC systems - $295,000; other expenses - $33,000; and unpaid bills - about $14,000.
The report added that the city didn't receive property taxes or market rent from the society in 2004 and 2006, as had originally been anticipated in the lease, a sum estimated to exceed $400,000. Eddy met with council on Jan. 14 to discuss the situation and to seek council's assistance in getting the $14,000 the society believes it's owed for assets left in the building when the city opted to sell it to another purchaser.
"We could have sold the assets," he said. "We had a bid for them."
The Raymond Burr Performing Arts Society is still active and is still a registered soci-
ety. Its goal is to fulfill its commitment to Douglas College to assist students.
Eddy said the society is grateful for the city's contributions to the theatre during its time as a tenant. He said it wasn't the society's responsibility to pay for expenses such the replacement of the roof.
"We could have benefited from the sale of those assets," he said. "Instead we gave them over to the possession of the city."
On Jan. 14, council approved a motion requiring the society to submit any and all documents that would make its case for being given $14,000 and have staff bring forward the bid the society had submitted for the purchase of the Burr Theatre at the following meeting.
At that meeting, council voted unanimously not to provide the $14,000 requested to the society.
Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said he doesn't believe the city owes the society a nickel. In addition to spending a lot of money entertaining the society's request, including processing Freedom of Information r applications, he r said the society failed to meet its commitments on contractual obligations for the theatre.
Puchmayr said he believes the city has been "extremely benevolent" and has gone over and above what it was required to do contractually with the society. He said he was "puzzled" the request had come forward requesting money, suggesting that "most of the meat is off the bones and carcass" already.
Puchmayr said he spoke to the society's former president about the matter, and he didn't feel the city owed the society any money.
Puchmayr said the Columbia Theatre's current owner, Barry Buckland, has done an "incredible job" in restoring the theatre and allowing community usage of the facility.
Unlike the society's proposal for the theatre, he said Buckland has done the work needed to revitalize the theatre without having to fundraise to make it happen or requiring taxpayers' money.
"It was cut and dried. It was financed," he said
Coun. Bill Harper said the city has made "very large" contributions to the society during its time in the theatre.
"Looking back, I think it was a failed project," he said.
Harper believes it was a wise decision for the city to sell the building to a private owner, who revitalized the theatre without taxpayers' money.
He noted that the city is already involved in scholarships at Douglas College.
"It doesn't warrant it," he said of the $14,000. "I don't think it is a good use of civic money, at this point, taxpayers' money."
Harper told Eddy Jan. 14 that he was "aghast" at the condition of the theatre.
Given the number of outstanding bills owed to the city by the society and the "very large" debt it left behind, he questioned how it was able to come back to council and ask for more money.
In a 2011 letter to the editor of The Record, Eddy stated that the society began to sell off its assets, but turned down an offer for the "theatre package" that had been financed by donors, at the city's request, so The Burr could continue to be used as a community theatre.
He said the society left the theatre package intact with the understanding that if the building ceased to be used as a community theatre, the city would recompense the society in the amount of $14,000.
"Not only did the city expropriate society property without notice, agreement or compensation, they reneged on the terms of the gift," he wrote.
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